Mahler: Symphony No3 album review – grandeur and beauty in Vänskä’s sober approach

Mahler: Symphony No3 album review – grandeur and beauty in Vänskä’s sober approach

Johnston/Minnesota Chorale & Boychoir/ Minnesota O/ Vänskä
(BIS, two CDs)
Conductor completes his Mahler cycle with this unfussy and effective recording

Osmo Vänskä’s account of the Third Symphony, recorded in Minneapolis in the autumn of 2022, completes his Mahler cycle with the Minnesota Orchestra that began with the Fifth in 2015. The qualities of that first disc, with Vänskä’s deliberately unhistrionic approach, the superb orchestral playing and vivid (if sometimes over-bright) recorded sound, have more or less defined all the releases that have followed. As some of the reviews have demonstrated, the soberness of the performances won’t be to all tastes – those who admire, say, Leonard Bernstein’s Mahler recordings may find them lacking in physicality and drama. But at their best – as in the outstanding account of Deryck Cooke’s performing version of the Tenth Symphony – the unfussy directness of Vänskä’s conducting is powerfully effective.

If the Third Symphony doesn’t quite reach those heights, it certainly has moments of stirring grandeur and beauty. Vänskä’s tempi are generally on the slow side – the whole work, easily the longest of all Mahler’s symphonies, takes almost 10 minutes longer here than it does in Claudio Abbado’s astounding live performance from the Royal Festival Hall in London in 1999, which has to be the benchmark for any new version of Mahler 3. The scherzo is a little stately perhaps, but the performance only rarely drags, most obviously in the fourth movement after beginning in an almost audible ppp, and despite the eloquence of mezzo Jennifer Johnston’s delivery of the Nietzsche setting.

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